When the Nashville Predators take the ice Saturday for Game 2 of their first-round series, they won’t just be squaring off against the Dallas Stars. The Predators will also be battling against their own history.
Since their first post-season appearance in 2003-04, the Predators have dropped Game 1 of a series nine times. And their record in those series? Oh-fer. Nashville has failed to win a single one, including the seven-game thriller against the Winnipeg Jets in the conference semifinal last season and the 2017 Stanley Cup final, in which the Pittsburgh Penguins won the first two games at home before closing out the series out with victories in Games 5 and 6. And in three instances – against the San Jose Sharks in 2007, Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 and Winnipeg last spring – Nashville was the higher seed. Not helping matters is that the Predators have just one win in the past six playoff outings at Bridgestone Arena, the home of Game 2 on Saturday.
Breaking out of this bad habit is going to require some work from Nashville, too. On Wednesday, the Stars took advantage of a Predators team that struggled to find its footing. Despite having 16 scoring chances in the opening period, a frame that saw the Nashville escape with a 1-0 lead, the Predators found themselves chasing the game across the final 40 minutes, recording just five shots over a 30-minute span that began in the second period. All the while, the Stars pushed the pace and found twine not once, not twice, but three times to skate away with a 3-2 win.
The good news is that the first period of Game 1 is much more indicative of what this Predators team is capable than the final two frames, and what Nashville did well is what it has done well throughout coach Peter Laviolette’s tenure: push opponents to the perimeter and utilize the point to generate offense. But in today's NHL, you can't have just two good periods and expect to win a playoff game, let alone a playoff round.
What Nashville will need beyond a full 60-minute effort, however, is production from its forwards. Nashville's top three scorers during the regular season, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith, combined for nine shots but came up empty handed in Game 1, though they were far from the only issue up front. On a night when the Predators’ offense was somewhat stifled, the lone forwards to find the scoresheet were Nick Bonino and Brian Boyle, with Nashville's two Game 1 goals coming from defensemen P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. And while contributions from the blueline are beneficial to the attack, they can’t be the primary source of offense. If the Predators are going to beat the Stars and thrive in the post-season, deadline acquisitions Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds need to show life after combining for just two goals in the final 16 regular season games, Kyle Turris needs to shake the funk that has followed him throughout the season and the bottom six needs to chip in when the opportunities present themselves.
A lack of offense has been a persistent problem in Nashville this season, though. The Predators’ 236 goals were the second-fewest of any Western Conference playoff team, as only the Stars (209) had fewer. By comparison, even the Ottawa Senators, who won 29 games this season, scored more goals (242) than Nashville. And it wasn’t a matter of the Predators’ offense starting slow. Quite the opposite. In 30 games since Feb. 1, Nashville scored a mere 76 goals, the fourth-fewest in the league.
From the minute the puck drops on Saturday, the Predators need to be in full-on attack mode, firing anything they can and instilling fear into a Stars team that is playing for the upset. It's time for Nashville’s offense to put up or shut up if they want to avoid keeping a disastrous playoff streak alive.